No, this chapter is not about nouveau work. It is about work and income, and how we can all interpret and create it. Work 3.0 is all about the phenomenon of the working human being.
Europe is aging. And that should put some grey hairs on your head. Just look at the data from The Dutch Bureau for Statistics on the country’s present and future age distribution and compare that to the age distribution of a nation like India.
Look at Japan. They have had a huge crisis for a number of decades. Their entire economy relies on exports, and is therefore very one-sided. Keeping a lid on production costs and wages is their only weapon to combat export stagnation. Forty percent of the work force does not have a decent fixed contract; older employees are rarely trained, and they don’t train themselves (why would they?). The Japanese costs are shifted unilaterally onto minorities: women and young people. The group with the most initiative in society has the fewest opportunities; productivity continues to decline, and the same goes for Japanese prosperity. In a final attempt to break the status quo in 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started to pour in money. Lots of it! However, when the clogs are stuck, pouring in more oil doesn’t make the wheels turn. So, unless Japan reforms itself and lifts the restrictions and dated legalities, the country will not get out of the zombie state.
This prospect awaits us in Europe as well. In The Netherlands alone, almost 1 million people (out of a labor population of roughly 7 million) will retire in the coming decade. If the market situation does not change, the logistics branch alone will need 55,000 extra people by 2015 (source: Trading Organization for Logistics and Transport).
In the field of education, about 100,000 teachers will retire in ten years’ time. And, in the same period, the sharp rise in the aging population in the healthcare industry will create – according to the Dutch Healthcare and Innovation Platform – a gaping chasm between the 480,000 required employees and an influx of just 250,000. If we were to fill all those jobs in healthcare, then 1.7 million people would be working in the field by that time. With today’s political insights, we are unable to pay for that. But it’s not primarily about the money; because of the aging population, there simply are not enough people. The workforce all over Europe is declining.
The remaining workers want to work less. Collective pensions and healthcare premiums are becoming prohibitive. There are less people paying and more people who will demand these funds over the long-term. This enforced collectivity is bringing us to ruin. The Japanese scenario is lying in wait.
Or are we going to be replaced by robots? Not the human look-alikes, but artificial intelligence around us. Many administrative jobs, middle management, and manufacturing positions will be gone. Even journalism will not be saved from automation.
According to a 2013 study by the University of Oxford, “47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two.”
“The problem with the conventional wisdom is that it underestimates the long-term impact of automation and it expects too much in the way of occupational acrobatics from the average worker,” says Martin Ford, a software developer and author of The Lights in the Tunnel. Ford argues that this is somewhat analogous to having the agricultural sector mechanized and then expecting that everyone will get a job driving a tractor. “The numbers don’t work,” he concludes.
Globally, work will be divided in a different way. We see the rise of platforms like Elance, ODesk, and Freelancer.com helping companies to create their own “circle” of experts around them and serving as the new temporary labor or outsourcing agencies. Corporate value creation will be loosely organized with (global) project teams growing and shrinking quickly, adding and losing different skills. According to Elance’s Steffen Hedebrandt, this market for companies like Elance and Odesk will rise between 2013 and the next couple of years from $1 billion to $5 billion, confirming the transformation of “work” as we know it.